What’s up with the elections?

Over at Daily Kos, one item caught my eye: Iraqi Candidate Names Not Released for ‘Security Reasons.’ But what most interested me were the comments.

Over at Daily Kos, one item caught my eye: Iraqi Candidate Names Not Released for ‘Security Reasons’.
This is currently absolutely true. I say, “currently” because every political figure I’ve spoken with, both on the Sistani list or running their own, promises me the lists will be published “some day soon.” We’ll see.
But the question that seemed to spark the most comments was this: “Who has the final authority on whether to hold the Iraqi elections on time, or to delay them? Is it [Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi? Or is it some other person or government body?”
Well, here’s the answer: _no one has the authority._
Yep. The date of the elections are doubly set in legislative stone because the “Transitional Administrative Law”:http://www.cpa-iraq.org/government/TAL.html (TAL), drawn up by the CPA in the spring of 2004, says that the the elections must not be delayed past Jan. 31 “in any event”. This is further backed up by “United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546”:http://www.usip.org/library/pa/iraq/adddoc/iraq_unsc1546.html, which recognizes the Interim Iraqi Government as the sovereign government of Iraq and endorses explicitly the “holding of direct democratic elections by 31 December 2004 if possible, and in no case later than 31 January 2005, to a Transitional National Assembly.”
So, this doesn’t fall under the United States’ purview. It’s not even under the Iraqis’ authority, since the U.N. has [implicity] blessed the TAL and emphasized the end of January 2005 as the go-date. The only _legal_ way this election can be delayed is if the Iraqi National Council amends the TAL and a new resolution is passed at the U.N.
[UPDATE A commenter below mentioned that the U.N. did not explicitly endorsed the TAL in UNSCR 1546. This is true and I’ve updated this post to clarify my words. But regardless of whether the TAL has legitimacy with the Iraqi people, the U.N. or international law, it’s the system the Iraqis have at the moment. And it’s the system that all the players in this election are working under. There is no other game in town.]
Simple, right? No! Article 3 of the TAL specifically says no amendments may be made to the law that would “extend the transitional period beyond the timeframe cited in this Law; delay the holding of elections to a new assembly.”
So, three strikes to changing the date. And that’s not even getting into the political implications of changing the date. The Shi’a would go absolutely mad if they’re not held on time, having had elections postponed before. That was possible only because Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani gave his grudging acceptance to U.N. special representative “Lakhdar Brahimi”:http://www.un.org/News/dh/iraq/brahimi-bio-jan04.htm that elections could not be organized prior to the June 28 sovereignty transfer.
So what’s this mean? It means my U.N. source on the Independent Election Commission of Iraq is wrong when he said with a shrug, “If we can’t hold elections, we can’t hold elections.” It means the Iraqis are in a Catch-22. And it means there’s going to be a high body count in January.
Don’t hold the elections and you risk a Shi’a uprising. Sistani has kept Shi’a passions in check, but with a word, he sent tens of thousands of his supporters into the streets of Najaf to protect the “Imam Ali”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000810.php#000810 shrine in August. He could easily do it again.
But if they hold elections, many, many people will die. I know this in my bones. And the Sunni will not take part in any meaningful sense. The Shi’a and the Kurds will have over-representative majorities that the Sunnis won’t trust not to abuse their power. Because this Transitional Assembly is charged with writing a permanent constitution, this will not sit will with the Sunni minority.
Some American columnists have said, “tough luck, they had their chance.” That’s certainly true to some degree, but calling rejectionist Sunnis buttheads doesn’t help matters. My main concerns these days is not what’s right or wrong, moral or immoral, but what will keep as many people alive as possible.
Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any way to postpone elections and there doesn’t seem to be any way to hold them, what with the story that “all 700 election workers in Mosul resigned”:http://www.indystar.com/articles/3/206042-7413-010.html under threat of death from violent Salafis and Wahhabis.
But if the election is held, and the results are in, what might we expect? Well, the answers might surprise you. Based on my own reporting and sending my guys down south, Allawi is surprisingly popular in Basra and Ammara. Why? Because many Shi’a are secular, and they are more nationalistic than religious and so hate the Iranian stalking horse parties SCIRI and Dawa, who dominate the Sistani list. (“Abdul Aziz al-Hakim”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Aziz_al-Hakim of SCIRI and “Ibrahim al-Jafari”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahim_al-Jaafari of Hizb’dawa are the No. 1 and No. 2 names on the Sistani list. Their supporters make up a large percentage of the list, up to 40 percent according to some observers. The secular “Ahmed Chalabi”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Chalabi is No. 10.)
Oh, SCIRI, Badr and Dawa all deny any Iranian influence, but at the bombing of SCIRI’s headquarters last week, many of the guards — including the one who shot at me — were speaking Farsi, according to my Iraqi fixers. They were Badr troops, and they’re Iranians.
In Basra, my fixers down there tell me that there are cultural events, book releases — but all in Farsi, and the mayor attends speaking fluent Farsi. While this is more a sign of cross-cultural pollination than a confirmation that the mayor of Basra is an Iranian spy, the people of Basra don’t see it that way. Iraqis, by and large, are damn distrustful of foreigners, but Iranians are especially distrusted. And since most of the exile parties were based or had close contacts with Tehran, and they are the ones dominating the Sistani list… Well, you can see how it starts to get complicated down there.
In Najaf and Karbala, of course, the situation is different. The Sistani list is very popular there, as one might expect, seeing as those are the two holiest cities in Shi’a Islam and Sistani lives in Najaf. But Basra is a city of up to 3 million people. Najaf and Karbala are nowhere near that.
So while the Sistani list will almost certainly attain a plurality of the vote, I don’t expect an absolute majority. And while Allawi’s not well-liked, I’ve been surprised at the level of his support. Many Shi’a I’ve spoken with plan to vote for him because he’s a “strong leader, like Saddam.”
No Sunni I’ve spoken with has any plans to vote at all.
But one thing has gone almost unnoticed. Two weeks ago, the Allawi government announced the stepped-up schedule for the Iraqi Special Tribunal, the court in charge of trying Saddam and his former comrades. Speeding up the timing was a blatant political stunt on the part of the Allawi government, intended to bolster his standing with the public.
Think about that. For possibly the first time, an Iraqi politician had to resort to political grandstanding to get votes. _That’s never happened here before._ And despite the chaos, the death and the uncertainty, that’s kind of cool.
But still, I worry about this month. Last night, someone shot up the hotel I was in at a New Year’s Party. (I didn’t even know it had happened until this morning, so it wasn’t serious.) We hear explosions, near and distant, almost hourly. The atmosphere is tense and edgy, and the political slogans on the posters read like threats. “Voting is Your National and Islamic Duty,” reads one alongside a photo of Sistani.
I won’t even begin to make a prediction about who might be in office come Feb. 1, but I would guess — emphasize _guess_ — that al-Hakim will be President. (Once the Transitional Assembly is seated, it picks a presidential council of a president and two vice presidents. This council then chooses the prime minister.) I don’t think it’s likely, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chalabi as minister of finance or something like that. Prime Minister? Good question. Allawi could easily keep his job but if the Sistani list rolls over everyone else, Hussein al-Shahristani, the former nuclear scientist and initial favorite to be the Interim Prime Minister instead of Allawi, starts to look pretty good as PM.
Happy New Year, everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Next up, more on the elections and what’s the platform of the Sistani List?

3 thoughts on “What’s up with the elections?”

  1. The Election Lock-in

    Christopher Allbritton is a very brave journalist, working independently in Iraq. His blog’s latest entry explains why Iraqi elections cannot be postponed, even if people wanted to. His best copy is saved for journalists who think it is just “tough…

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